The Importance of Images in Graphic Design

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Images in Graphic Design

We’re all familiar with the popular saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It hints at the unique power that images possess as communication tools. Complex ideas can be conveyed powerfully by a single carefully selected image and can be communicated more effectively than a purely text-based description. An image’s capacity to engage viewers and communicate meaning make it a very useful design tool for graphic designers. Images are evocative. Images are universal. They break through the language barrier. Whether you’re creating an advert design, a brochure design, or a PowerPoint presentation design, carefully selected images can add so much to a design and be much more effective in engaging an audience. Although we will focus on photograph images and stock images here, designers also regularly use graphics and illustrations in their designs as an alternative to images. Graphics are often used in business presentations to show data and processes in a clear and engaging way. The use of images, graphics, and illustrations all serve similar roles – helping to communicate a message more memorably.  

In this article, we will discuss the role of images in graphic design, including how images effect the viewer, the types of images that are commonly used in graphic design, and some of the important things to consider when using images effectively in your designs. In previous posts, we wrote about some of the most important elements of graphic design, including colour in graphic design, typography in graphic design, and layout in graphic design. These elements, with carefully selected images, together play vital roles in shaping and determining the look and feel of a design, and in communicating your message with clarity.

Images - A Deeper Look

When thinking about how images can be used in graphic design, we should first consider the different types of images available to us. Images can refer to photographs, illustrations, or graphics. They can be figurative or abstract. For a graphic designer, the most obvious advantage to using images is that they draw the eye. They attract attention. Images engage. Psychologists have found that people are 80% more likely to read and engage with information if visuals are included in how the information is presented. 

People respond more strongly to visual information. Research has shown that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than we process text. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Using images in design can be highly effective in helping to communicate and connect.

It’s clear that people find images more engaging. We’re also more likely to remember image-based information. The human mind absorbs and retains image-based information much more efficiently than text-based information. A recent study found that people are much more likely to retain new information if it is paired with a relevant image. The study found that people are likely to remember only 10% of the information they read after a three day period. However, If the information is paired with a relevant image, people retained 65% of the information after three days. 

If we bear in mind these insights, it becomes clear how images can have a powerful effect on an audience, and that graphics designers should know how to use images to maximum effect in their designs. Images can be used effectively as a communication tool to attract attention and reinforce the message, and, in combination with thoughtful layout design and branded design elements, the right imagery helps to make designs more compelling and engaging.

We now know a little more about the power of images, but what are some of the potential pitfalls of using images, and what should graphic designers be aware of when searching for the right images for their designs?

images in graphic design

Using the Right Image

If you want to get the most of out of images as a designer, it’s important to be aware of some of the potential problems that come with using images in design. Using generic stock images, using images that do not complement and enhance the message, or using images that are not high-resolution, high-quality vector images, are some of the more common issues that can undermine your design.

Using an appropriate image that complements the message can heighten the impact of your design. Selecting the right image is critical when creating image-based designs. There are many websites available that offer a wide range of stock images. Sites like Adobestock and Shutterstock offer access to high quality stock images by subscription. There are also free stock image websites available, for example Pixabay. Caution is advised when using free stock images. Free stock images tend to be generic and are often widely used, which can limit their impact on the viewer.

When you are designing on a large scale, it’s important that your images appear crisp and clean. You should use vector images and avoid using raster images. Raster images are composed of tiny pixels and are resolution dependent. In practice, this means that raster images will lose resolution and become blurred if the image size is adjusted (see Fig1). A vector is an image file-type that is composed of lines rather than pixels, so this means it can be scaled up or down to any size and it will never look blurry or low quality. A vector image can be adjusted without losing image resolution or the quality of the image. Typically, vectors are used for graphics and illustrations and come in the form of Ai, svg, eps files. Jpegs or PNGs are used for images and photographs.

Fig 1 - A vector image vs pixelated raster image

Whether you are designing an advert, a PowerPoint presentation, or a company brochure, using the right image is about ensuring you use high resolution images that enhance the message and add a new dimension to your design. A pixelated or blurry image is not acceptable for a professional design. It looks even worse if the image is adjusted and printed on a larger scale. To prevent blurring and ensure clear images, when working in print you should always be using JPEG images with high resolution or a vector image.

There are other things to bear in mind when selecting stock images. It pays to spend enough time searching through the vast image collections to find the image that will work best within your design. You should avoid generic and low-quality images, and images that may clash with the rest of your design. When it comes to adding the personal touch, or if you’re struggling to find an appropriate image for the design, you may want to consider hiring a photographer to capture an image exactly as you want it.

When selecting an image, think about the message the image is conveying, look for a focal point and how it relates to your information. Images evoke emotions, and as a designer you can influence the emotions of your viewer. A visual representation, carefully selected and placed in the right context, resonates with the viewer, and helps to sell the message and make it more memorable. Let’s look at a few examples of how images have been used effectively in some recent designs.

The Power of Images in Graphic Design

An image in the right context helps to clarify information, adds meaning and evokes associations that help the viewer make connections. As a graphic designer, these insights into the power of images allow us to create more effective and visually appealing advert designs, brochure designs, PowerPoint designs, social media posts, and more. With the right image, a message becomes more clear and more memorable. In this section, we will examine the use of images in three designs and will show how the right image with the right message gives designs more power. We will look at an advert from McDonalds, a public health information poster from the NHS, and we will conclude the section by discussing an advert design we created for one of our clients.

Consider the role of the image in the McDonalds advert below (see Fig 2). The advert includes enlarged high-quality images of their products as the focal point of the advert design. The scale of the image is intended to heighten the message of the advert, and to attract attention and stimulate the viewers appetite. The large-scale images of the trio of McDonald’s burgers, combined with the short tagline, entices the viewer, and makes the message very clear. Images help create connections between the image and text and amplify the message to the viewer. The centering of high-quality product images in this advert design makes it a much more effective, attention-grabbing, and memorable advert.

power of images in graphic design
Fig 2 - McDonald's Poster Advert

A carefully selected image can have a powerful effect, strengthening associations and helping to sell the key message in a memorable way. Finding or creating the right images to use can make or break your design. When used appropriately, you can spark interest in a campaign, enhance a brand’s identity, and build trust and win new customers.

The NHS Covid-19 information poster below (see Fig3) is another example of the power of images. The design for the information poster uses a compelling image as the focal point of the design. The image shows a woman washing her hands accompanied by the message ‘Every 20 seconds is making a difference.’ The photograph draws the eye to the poster and reinforces the important public health message encouraging people to wash their hands regularly. A well selected image engages the viewer and increases the probability that they will read and remember the message that accompanies the image.

Fig 3 - NHS Covid-19 Information Poster

An appropriate image aligned with relevant text can be very effective in helping to convey meaning, and to inform and educate. The poster design uses the image to reinforce the key message of the poster as it complements the text and helps to create a more visually appealing design to engage the viewer. Our eyes tend to focus on the largest thing first. A large image will be the first thing a viewer will see. When selecting a relevant image, think about the emotion or message you are communicating. The image should guide and elicit the viewer to engage and read your content. A prominently placed image accompanied by simple and clear and readable text can be the heart of highly engaging and effective design.

As a third example of the power of images in graphic design, we’ll discuss a recent poster design we created for our client Utopia Gymnastics (see Fig4). The purpose of the poster was to help generate new interest among young people in Utopia’s gymnastics classes and encourage more people to sign up to their gym by offering open gym sessions where anyone could attend.

In designing the poster, we decided to make an image of a young gymnast the focal point of the design. The image of a gymnast in action take up the majority of the space in the poster. We thought a dynamic and energetic relevant image would attract attention, give the design more energy, and would reflect Utopia’s youthful brand identity. The image gives a strong visual focus that gives viewers a glimpse of what they could be doing if they joined the class. Accompanied by information about the classes and how to book, the image engages the target audience, sparks interest, and complements the message of the poster.

image use in graphic design
Fig 4 - Gold Rabbit Poster Design Utopia

As you can see from these examples, images can be a fantastic resource for a graphic designer and can help bring a design to life. Images are a valuable tool that can be employed by designers to add engaging visuals, reinforce a message and connect better with an audience.

See our Utopia Gymnastics case study for more details on our poster design. 

Images, Communication and Design

Effective graphic design is about communication and engagement. As we’ve seen, images can be a highly effective tool in helping you convey the right message and engage an audience. In this article, we have considered how images can have a powerful effect on viewers, and how this can be used by graphic designers to create more compelling and effective designs. We discussed where to source images and the importance of using vector images to ensure quality, clear images, and we have reviewed examples of how using appropriate high-quality images helps to reinforce the message and create a more visually engaging design.

Whether you are creating brochures, social media posts, PowerPoint presentations, posters or adverts, images play a key role in shaping a design. Alongside layout design, typography, and colour, images are one of the most important elements in graphic design, helping to reinforce a message, create the right impression and connect with the viewer,

For more information on the key elements and building blocks in graphic design, read our articles on colour, layout,  and typography and the important role these elements play in developing successful designs.

Next Step

What colours are right for your marketing? At Gold Rabbit, colour is a really important element of what we do. We bring our knowledge of colour theory and psychology in design to all our design projects, whether it is a simple flyer design or a hundred page product catalogue.

Are you looking to work with graphic designers to create effective and eye-catching marketing assets appropriate for your business?  

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